November holds a special place in the calendar, marking a month of gratitude, thanksgiving, and the celebration of freedom. It's a time when the world remembers significant historical events that have shaped our lives. On November 11, 1918, World War I officially ended. On the same day, an independent Polish state was proclaimed.
Amidst these historical milestones, gratitude takes on a personal and collective dimension. While individuals express their heartfelt appreciation for the freedoms and peace they enjoy, the Polish declarations of admiration and gratitude from 1926 offer a unique lens into the historical aspects of gratitude. These declarations represent an extraordinary example of a nation's gratitude and appreciation.
In 1926, as the United States celebrated the 150th anniversary of its Declaration of Independence, a remarkable gesture of goodwill unfolded. Over 5.5 million Polish citizens signed a unique birthday card called "The Polish Declarations of Admiration and Friendship." This event had deep historical roots, as the United States provided humanitarian aid to the Polish people after WWI, particularly those affected by the tumultuous events on the eastern front. Restoring Polish independence became one of America's objectives when it officially joined the war.
The most extraordinary gift between nations emerged in the form of 111 volumes presented to the United States by Poland on the 150th anniversary of American independence. These volumes contained a declaration of admiration, bearing the signatures of over one-sixth of Poland's population in 1926, a snapchat of the population.
For many Americans, it may be challenging to comprehend the profound significance of this gesture. Regaining independence after 123 years, Poles looked to the United States as a model of political organization and American democracy as a beacon of hope for their future while reconstructing their statehood. It was, therefore, fitting that Poland, only eight years after regaining independence, chose to commemorate the 150th anniversary of American independence.
The idea of involving the Polish people in celebrating America's holiday was first introduced in February 1926 by the American-Polish Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Poland, established in 1921, and the Polish American Society, founded in 1919 by the renowned Polish composer and statesman, Ignacy Paderewski. These organizations invited various government departments, the municipality of Warsaw, and other Polish institutions and associations to appoint thirty delegates to a national Sesquicentennial Committee tasked with determining an appropriate tribute.
The Central Committee, responsible for collecting the signatures, distributed thousands of address sheets to governmental, local governmental, and social institutions and all Polish schools. Some sheets were returned, featuring magnificent designs by esteemed Polish artists. The volumes are adorned with official seals, intricate coats of arms, elaborate calligraphy, photographs, and ornate decorative bindings. Within these volumes, one can find sheets beautifully embellished with artistic creations by students and faculty of various schools and universities. The signatures are often thoughtfully arranged in creative and clever designs, while many sheets feature a brief poem or a heartfelt congratulatory message at the top. Additionally, some pages capture group photographs of students and faculty, providing a visual record of the collective spirit and unity that permeated this remarkable expression of admiration and friendship between Poland and the United States.
Despite political unrest in 1926- a military coup d'état, the Committee collected over 5,5 million signatures from Polish citizens who displayed unparalleled unity by adding their signatures to the declaration, ultimately reaching President John Calvin Coolidge to demonstrate that the anniversary of the United States was a meaningful celebration throughout Poland.
Tragically, World War II erupted just thirteen years after these signatures were gathered. Poland suffered greatly, facing invasion by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, resulting in immense losses, including the lives of nearly six million Polish citizens, including three million Polish Jews.
"In numerous cases, the signature in this declaration stands as the sole proof of existence for those who perished in the war." Sam Ponczak
All 111 volumes, containing over 30,000 pages, have been digitized over several years (2005-2015) and are accessible on the Library of Congress website. The Class of 1926 digitization project, a collaborative effort between the Polish Library in Washington, D.C., and the Library of Congress, with support from the Embassy of the Republic of Poland, has made this historic collection available to researchers worldwide. Samuel Ponczak, the driving force behind the Class of 1926 digitization initiative, emphasized, "In numerous cases, the signature in this declaration stands as the sole proof of existence for those who perished in the war." Ponczak, alongside Grazyna Zebrowska, oversaw the Polish Library's role in the project and was the primary contact with the Library of Congress team. You can explore these documents at loc.gov/collections/polish-declarations/about-this-collection/.
The 5.5 million autographs, representing a heartfelt expression of gratitude from the Polish people to the United States, are now also accessible on the https://polska1926.pl/https://polska1926.pl/ portal, where you can perhaps find signatures of your family members. Enjoy!